Sen. Bernie Sanders outlined -- and defended -- his vision for democratic socialism on Wednesday, as he faces down criticism and uncertainty from President Trump and more moderate Democrats about some of his policy stances ahead of the presidential election.
The Vermont independent and 2020 hopeful delivered a policy speech Wednesday afternoon at George Washington University to explain the historical role of democratic socialism in American politics. Sanders argued that it’s time to complete the “unfinished business” of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal by guaranteeing health care, good education and living wages as inalienable economic rights.
“We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights,” Sanders said. “This is what I mean by democratic socialism.”
Sanders brought democratic socialism to the forefront during the 2016 presidential election, after turning a longshot gamble for the Democratic nomination into a national movement. Despite being a relatively unknown lawmaker ahead of the 2016 election, he returned to the Senate a supernova before eventually launching his second presidential bid in February.
He hit on some of his regular talking points during the speech: The top 1 percent hold all of the wealth -- and all of the power. And despite a strong macro economy, he warned that working-class Americans are struggling to keep their heads above water.
"We now have an economy that is fundamentally broken, and grotesquely unfair," he said.
His speech came as he’s facing increased attacks from Republicans, who are eager to deride Sanders as a communist sympathizer (Sanders has always clarified that he does not support authoritarian communism, but democratic socialism). Sanders' definition of democratic socialism, he said, includes the right to: a good job that pays a living wage, affordable housing, secure retirement, the chance to live in a clean environment, education and quality health care.
"I welcome their hatred," he said, quoting FDR to a standing ovation.
During Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year, he repeatedly warned about “new calls to adopt socialism in our country” as he looks to label progressive lawmakers as “socialists.” Sanders is so far the only 2020 candidate (in a crowded field of 24) to openly identify as a democratic socialist.
According to a Gallup poll from 2018, Democrats have a more positive image of socialism than they do capitalism. Only 47 percent of Democrats were positive about capitalism, compared to 57 percent with a positive view of socialism. (Republicans remain more positive about capitalism than socialism, with little sustained change in their views of either since 2010).
But Sanders tried to turn the tables on Trump, and on Wall Street, in the speech, painting them as “oligarchs” who “don’t really oppose all forms of socialism.”
“They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires,” he said. “Let us never forget the unbelievable hypocrisy of Wall Street, the high priests of unfettered capitalism.”